Slowly but surely, Huawei has worked its way up to the big leagues, and has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as long-established Android rivals Samsung, LG and HTC. The company’s launched its new flagship the Huawei P9, at a typically-odd event (a procession of top photographers took the stage for about an hour before the arrival of Henry Cavill, who had a couple of issues with the teleprompter), and I got to fiddle with it.
The P9 is a pretty phone. It’s not quite as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as the Samsung Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6S, but I rate it above the LG G5, HTC One M9 and OnePlus 2 in terms of looks. I honestly don’t give a toss about slimness, but I’m sure spray-on skinny jeans-wearing consumers will be tempted in by its slinky, 6.95mm frame.
Its brushed aluminium unibody is attractive and solid, and the pleasantly chunky volume rocker and power key sit on the right-hand edge. My only criticism is that the phone’s boxy shape does nothing to help it stand out. It’s partly why the Sony Xperia range has failed to set the world alight.
The headphone jack, USB Type-C port and a single speaker, meanwhile, lie at the bottom, while a microSD slot that lets you add to the 32GB of internal storage is stationed on the left edge, and there’s a fingerprint scanner around the back.
Though the P9 features a 5.2-inch, Full HD display, the handset is surprisingly compact thanks to its barely-there bezels. It’s comfortable to hold in one hand, but if you’re like me and only have diddy digits, you’ll struggle to reach all areas of the display without getting your other hand involved.
The screen itself is bright and sharp, with a pixel density of 423ppi and a top setting of 500 nits. Viewing angles are good too, and colours look vibrant and punchy. It looks like a good choice for TV bingers and keen gamers.
While swiping between apps and screens, I couldn’t sense any lag, which in truth only really says that the P9 isn’t completely lousy. It runs on a 2.5GHz octa-core Kirin 955 processor and 3GB of RAM, which should see it compete with the other flagships on the market in the performance stakes. The 3,000mAh battery should easily see you through a day too, but if you do end up running flat, Huawei says that a 10-minute charge will provide five hours of talk-time. Not bad.
The P9 feature Huawei’s undoubtedly most proud of, however, is its dual 12-megapixel cameras. Built in partnership with Leica, the setup uses a regular camera sensor and a monochrome sensor. Yep, one of them is dedicated to black-and-white shots. Huawei claims that the two combine to capture 200% more light and 50% more contrast than a single RGB sensor. If you’re feeling all dramatic and arty, you can also use the monochrome snapper on its own.
Off paper, I’m afraid to say that I wasn’t blown away with the P9 camera’s performance, though the lighting in the hands-on zone admittedly wasn’t favourable. My shots came out slightly soft, lacking focus, and colours looked a touch oversaturated. It’ll be interesting to see how the P9 fares in the real world.
What’s guaranteed to split opinion, however, is Huawei’s approach to software. The P9 runs Android Marshmallow, though Google’s OS comes wrapped up in the EMUI 4.1 skin. For those of you unfamiliar with Huawei's handsets, the skin gets rid of the app drawer and makes your handset feel a bit iPhone-y.
The Huawei P9 isn't going to challenge the Samsung Galaxy S7 for smartphone supremacy, but it's an impressive handset nonetheless. If the camera, sorry, cameras, live up to the hype, we'll be welcoming another top-level mobile to the market later this month. If not, that £449 price tag may prove a turn-off.